I'm sitting here thanks to Optima
Batteries, Warn winches, Detroit lockers and TrXuS tires and luck. Sometimes I survive
despite my own determination to achieve otherwise...
I had originally planned a gratuitous
weekend of wheeling at Paragon but changed plans in favor of my father's 70th Birthday
party. This meant a 500-mile road trip to Massachusetts (one way) and a pretty tight
schedule. By the time I got done driving the trip up, the party evening, it would be a
quick breakfast away from a 500-mile road trip back to Maryland. Wheeling? HaHaHa! (But I
did say to my wife: "Let's take the Jeep, honey, in case something 'happens' while
we're traveling?" )
We drove to New York the first night
where I dropped my wife, kids and luggage at my sister-in-laws front door ( to save a long
walk in the dark pouring rain, but sort of messed up the lawn... Long story for another
time...Suspect vehicle shod with TrXuS M/T...)
Then next morning we hit the NY Thruway
and rode the sunshine through Amherst, MA and old Rt 202 by the Quabbin Reservoir. Nice
little ride. We live for times like these. The kids jammed to tunes in the back, though I
think its time to look at more age-appropriate seating. The child seats protect but the do
not have a suspension in the cushion system. They ride like a hard-tail choppers... Kids
like that right?
Hit the hotel, got dressed up, went to
the party (skipping details of child care arrangements and logistics). We finally get to
the party spot where we hold the surprise birthday party for Dad.
I went back to the hall to help clean up
after the party after more domestic logistics (sick kid at babysitters) and caught my
nephew David (age 17?) preparing for a ride home with Mom and the grandparents in a mini
van. No No No...! Dave, Dave, Dave...
"Hey Dave, c'mon - I'll give you a
ride home..." Dave remembers my 1948 Willys and never hesitates to go with me even if
it's just pavement and going to get bread for lunch.
On the way to taking him directly home, I
suggested we take the old town road that connects my parents road to his parents road,
straight as an arrow through the woods less than two miles end to end. Piece o' cake. Not
even out of the way...
The last time I wheeled it in November,
there was a few inches of snow and not much of a problem driving through. Fast forward
several months to now, and a few feet (literally) of snow fall, a short spring melt, still
in progress, the snow like crumbly ice pebbles the size of a BB and you pretty much have
it. Silly me I just thought the snow looked packed real nice. Not! It was dark, in the
'40's and dropping a little and there was a light breeze. "Nippy". No problem we
can walk to my parents or Dave's house in less than 30 minutes if we really have
I had looked at the area during the day
and it looked like maybe 4 inches of snow left, maybe drifted to 6 inches in spots, so no
problem.... Got boots in the Jeep, how bad can it get? Muahahahaha!
It was 11:30pm when we got to the
turn-off. We overshot the trail entrance in the dark and doubled back. Just turning in
from the road, there's a spot where pond overflow narrows the road, enough that one of the
ruts gets blurred into a spot with advanced erosion. I got my
left front wheel past but it sucked my left rear
wheel off the road and gave me a taste of the snow outside "the ruts" - about
20-inches deep, and below that, depending on where you were, either solid gravel, running
water under a couple inches of ice, or deep water... We had a long ride ahead... I looked
at Dave and said, "this is the best it's gonna get, are you in?" Dumb kid, he
said "Yeah". So we continued on.
I managed to stay on the ruts for a
couple hundred yards, was starting to feel comfortable and came to the spot where the
trail opens up to a sand pit. The going had been pretty tough already so I opted not to
play in the sand pit. Instead we nosed to the left to head up the hill, up the trail to
the road. Ah life is so simple for the simple minded...
I committed to that plan and found myself
immediately pitched hard to the drivers side in a deep erosion wash-out. It was deep
enough that I doubted I would be able to continue forward, and would flop over if I
stopped to back off. It was time to choose - dump the clutch and pray? Or gut it out and
punch it hard?
I used a little stupid pedal and we
ground up the erosion cut, heeling hard on the D.S. (OME parlance for Drivers Side...)
dragging the transfer case skid most of the way (already well chewed), and finally
"spit out" on the top. Yee Ha! No air or anything, but we really did feel like
we landed. Right away I found my left rear tire was leaking air from the bead where a
piece of glass had gone between the rim and bead. Nice... Fortunately, the TrXuS sidewalls
are pretty sturdy and there were no cuts or punctures.
While reaching for an AA Mag-lite,
my feet punch through the ice crust and I'm now standing on more or less wet and solid
ground, with my knees showing above the snow - my feet are about 15 or 16 inches deep.
Nice... Time to put the dress shoes in the back seat and get those sh*t k*cker*.
I realized that the path ahead was not going to be a quick little ride. Damn I'm
bright. I picked most of the glass out of the bead and observed no cutting. The tire had
aired down to about 15psi. It was my bad judgment to hit someone's party spot in the dark like that so I deserved
a glass filled bead.
So we figured the best thing to do was get out to pavement,
ASAP, so we could attend to the tire without
having also to deal with the trail. I really didn't want to be using any jack on that
terrain under those conditions. I decided it would help to air down the other three tires.
This is me at my best teaching my nephew Dave to wheel.
We got another 40 yards and dropped
through the ice crust onto the frame and transfer case skid, and could not continue
forward. I took my wing tips off (ya think?) and put on my hiking boots (yup, don't leave
home without them) and rigged the winch. Toys for stupid solo wheelers...
I got lucky and found a suitable tree
about 95 feet away. That's nice when you only have 100 feet of cable. We winched it up out
of the drop-out, and found that we were on top of about 2 feet of snow. The trail had been
used by snow mobiles but they had not packed it much wider than the width of my Jeep. So
if I went off their pack, I went down into the soft 2-foot-deep snow. The strange thing is
that the packed and unpacked snow look the same until you walk or drive on it then you can
tell the difference.
We tried to continue, got about 20 feet
and punched through again. So out comes the winch tackle again and we find a tree that is
suitable and within reach. I winched it back up on the hard pack and then we drove a good
ways only to punch through again. By this time we were within a 100 yards of the exit to
So worse case we'd be walking to Dave's
house and punting. It's not like we were going to die or anything. And it was at this
moment that I noticed the "CHECK GAUGES" light. Doh!
The ammeter is pegged on "9"
(that's the bottom end of the scale). Not good news when you have an electric winch, have
run 100 feet of cable in three times and you still have some several hundred feet of
winching to do. Good thing I haven't been using my Power Inverter today... We got cell
phone coverage for a moment and Dave's Mom rang through to see what happened to us. Happy
to hear that we were close by, making progress and in no immediate danger, we rang off and
rigged cable one more time.
Up until now, I had been using trees on
one side or the other of the trail. The problem was that we needed to be centered on the
trail to stay on the hardpack. Pulling towards the side while steering for the center
wasn't easy. So I did a two tree rigging with one tree strap on the winch hook with a
d-ring on one side of the road, and my pulley block held to my chocker chain (looped) on a
tree on the other side of the road with another D-ring. This put the angle of the pull
almost dead center on the trail and we were able to get the Jeep winched back up on the
hard pack and positioned for a good run to the road.
We broke down our rigging, tossed all the
gear in the Jeep.
I can't tell you how happy I was to have
that choke chain. I bought it after watching Bill Burke's "Unstuck!" video and
saw how he used it to anchor things. Very handy. Anyway, we saddled up and got ready for
another fun 20 feet. Man this story is never gonna end. Now you know how I felt!
While we were packing up, I tossed my Oasis Automatic Tire Deflators on and aired down
to about 15 psi. Oh great. Another one of those frikken Yuppie Jeepers? Don't let anyone
ever tell you that they are a luxury. No, I'm serious. Look at the situation and you tell
- Jeep is running because it looked like the
alternator was toast (might not start again)
- had the headlights off (working in the
- snow is almost 2 feet deep where we have
- It's cold and dark and my mommy is worried
So airing down would have sucked, not to
mention I didn't really want to be in the woods all night screwing with an air gauge. I
screwed on the Yuppie deflators and we scouted our perimeter for stuff we dropped (none)
and collected the air down stems and buttoned up for the next attempt to get out.
This time, the road ahead went steeply up a short grade with a decent sized erosion on
the left. To our benefit, it was solid gravel, and fairly clear of snow. On the down side,
the right wheels would be going up on the hard-pack and solid ice, and the dirt
did not go all the way to the top. So about 3/4 of the way up, you are basically back to 2
feet of snow with a thick ice crust and a narrow packed center that is too high to
straddle if you punch through. Lockers are definitely gonna help, but it still looked like
we'd be winching again. Thoughts of dimming lights or a false clutch-move on my
part, stalling, and we'd end up unable to start the bit*h because the battery was dead. No
pressure. Now we're having fun!
But somehow we made it to the top with some crawl at idle, 4:56's. We snuck back up on
top of the crust and got back to pavement without having to winch again. I know airing
down helped, and I think the hard-pack
was a little wider. That prayer I said might have helped too...
It was 12:58pm. Distance covered: less
than two miles. Sounds about right for a good work out.
I drove Dave home and boogied for the
"big city" where I could air up, get gas, and assess the alternator. I was
S.O.L. for Jeep parts because it was now 12-midnight in a town where only gas stations and
bars are open. Was praying to God for something simple to be the root cause of my
"Check Gauges" warning light.
I hit the Shell in South Gardner and got
gas. Then I went and aired up. It looked like the debris in the bead had worked itself out
and the tire held air when aired back up. This is good.
Then I took a chance on the Jeep, going
down the road, I shut it off for a second and then turned the key back on - this resets
the gauges like I often do when the gas gauge is "lying" to me, and lo and
behold - the ammeter came back up to normal.
Er, I feel a lot better now... sorta... I
hope this really means that I just pulled the output down while I was winching and the
gauge stayed there until "It" was happy that I knew it had dipped. I'm thinking
"Yeah, I've seen my winch draw it down to 9 - I don't need an alarm like this to make
me aware of it, thanks loads... "
The next day, when I got to the parking
lot at the hotel, the battery was spiky fresh, but the TrXuS with glass in the bead had
leaked so it got rotated to the spare mount and we put the spare on. Don't let anyone tell
you that a matching (tire, mileage and wheel) spare isn't good backstop.
I have to tell you, for everything I put that rig through tonight, it got me out,
took me home, and God willing, still works.
I drove it back from Templeton, MA to
Gaithersburg, MD in a little over 8 hours with stops for gas and pee. (Yeah right...) It
was tight - a good ride home.
I had fun wheeling that little road, but
I showed bad judgment for going on the trail without another vehicle. There's a Rubicon
sitting up at the top end of the trail but it looks to be getting ignored, don't know the
owners well enough to be banging on the door at 1 am, so I counted them out of any
"rescue us". (If they even knew how or could) We could have walked out, and we
both knew exactly where we were, so there was never a life threatening situation, but I
don't think Dave's parents and my wife appreciated our late reappearance. But we sure did
get a good dose of wheeling!
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